South Africa: Despite being called a “crippled ship,” South Africa’s first low-orbit earth observation (EO) satellite SumbandilaSat, is doing what it was designed to do. Orbiting at about 500km from the Earth’s surface, the satellite is transmitting earth observation imagery. It is providing information water, land use as well as air quality to decision makers. “At heart, the satellite is a pathfinder, a technology demonstrator,” said Val Munsami, Deputy Director-General, Department of Science and Technology.
From last couple of days, one set of the satellite’s reaction wheels had stopped working. The wheels stabilise the satellite and its onboard camera. But since, there was no redundancy plan, SumbandilaSat tumbled forward.
Built by SunSpace, a microsatellite company, SumbandilaSat was launched in September 2009 from the Baikonur Cosmodome in Kazakhstan. Department of Science and Technology, South Africa, paid ZAR 26m (ZAR: SA Currency) for the construction of satellite and it is being considered as a cheap satellite. “They made cost compromises because it wasn’t built for longevity. It was built as a prototype to show that SA has the capacity. It doesn’t have the back-up systems a fully functioning satellite would have,” said Marian Shinn, Minister for Science and Technology.